Closer look at life-cycle impacts of lithium-ion batteries and proton exchange membrane fuel cells

December 8, 2016, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Does it really help to drive an electric car if the electricity you use to charge the batteries come from a coal mine in Germany, or if the batteries were manufactured in China using coal?

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Industrial Ecology Programme have looked at all of the environmental costs of to determine the cradle-to-grave environmental footprint of building and operating these vehicles.

In the 6 December issue of Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers report on a model that can help guide developers as they consider new nanomaterials for batteries or fuel cells. The goal is to create the most environmentally sustainable vehicle fleet possible, which is no small challenge given that there are already an estimated 1 billion cars and light trucks on the world's roads, a number that is expected to double by 2035.

With this in mind, the researchers created an environmental life-cycle screening framework that looked at the environmental and other impacts of extraction, refining, synthesis, performance, durability and recyclablility of materials.

This allowed the researchers to evaluate the most promising nanomaterials for lithium-ion batteries (LIB) and (PEMFC) as power sources for electric vehicles. "Our analysis of the current situation clearly outlines the challenge," the researchers wrote. "The materials with the best potential environmental profiles during the material extraction and production phase.... often present environmental disadvantages during their use phase... and vice versa."

The hope is that by identifying all the of different materials used to build , designers and engineers can "make the right design trade-offs that optimize LIB and PEMFC nanomaterials for EV usage towards mitigating climate change," the authors wrote.

They encouraged material scientists and those who conduct life-cycle assessments to work together so that electric cars can be a key contributor to mitigating the effects of transportation on climate change.

Explore further: Battery electric cars are a better choice for reducing emissions than fuel cell vehicles, study finds

More information: Linda Ager-Wick Ellingsen et al, Nanotechnology for environmentally sustainable electromobility, Nature Nanotechnology (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2016.237

Related Stories

Electric-car battery materials could harm key soil bacteria

February 10, 2016

The growing popularity of battery-powered cars could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they are not entirely Earth friendly. Problems can creep in when these batteries are disposed of. Scientists, in a new study in ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.